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Human Potential: You Like Me. You Really Like Me
by Tim Sanders

"Likeability is truly the secret of a charmed, happy, and profitable life," writes Tim Sanders, leadership coach at Yahoo! and author of the upcoming book The Likeability Factor. Here, he describes the four principles that will boost your "L-Factor" while remaining authentic to your true self.

Who immediately comes to mind if you were asked to name someone who is likeable? Your best friend who brings out the best in you and others? The pizza delivery guy who is so friendly and funny that you never even think to order a slice elsewhere? The woman at your gym who seems to get along with anyone, even that workout trainer who rarely smiles?

Now, wouldn't it be great if you were the most common likeable person named by other folks asked that same question? It could happen. For real. Whether you are particularly likeable at this moment or not. But why make that effort? Because research shows that your likeability will determine your personal and professional success. Sure, it takes some work and self-awareness, but likeable people have longer, better relationships than their less likeable counterparts; they are more likely to get desired jobs and raises; and they enjoy better customer service from doctors, lawyers, waiters, and, frankly, everyone. Most importantly, though, research shows that likeable people are happier.

The good news is that you truly can boost what I call your "L-Factor" — and in a genuine way that doesn't turn you into Miss Fake or Mr. Kiss-up. As a leadership coach at Yahoo!, I have been researching the subject of likeability for the last two years, gathering more than a quarter-million pages of research with my team. That research reveals that you can indeed become more likeable by becoming proficient at four elements of your personality: being friendly, being relevant, showing empathy, and being "real."

Basically, your likeability factor is your ability to create positive emotional experiences in others. When you make others feel good, they tend to like, prefer, choose, or gravitate to you. You are low in likeability when you come at a psychological cost. Generating a negative experience in other people causes them to avoid choosing you, staying with you, listening to you, believing you, or supporting you in times of crisis. Simply put, emotional angels accomplish more than psychological warriors.

Thankfully, your L-Factor is not all or nothing. In my seminars, I've created a model in which everyone has an L-Factor between one and 10. If it is a nine, you are a success story, someone often described as "lucky." If you are a three, you are usually miserable and have high relationship turnover. A small percentage of people might be so talented that they have some measure of success even though they rank a three, but they are not happy, and the people around them are miserable. Did you know that if you work for a boss you don't like for five years, it can double your chance of stroke? It's true.

When people encounter you by any means, they consistently and subconsciously ask themselves four questions, and the answers determine your L-Factor. First, they seek friendliness. Once you're considered friendly, they ask themselves if you are relevant to them. If you are both friendly and highly relevant, they ponder whether you have empathy for them. Finally, they ask themselves if you are "real" — that is, authentic and honest. If you make it through those four relationship questions with affirmative answers, you receive a high L-Factor. Here's how to refine each of these personality aspects for the best score.

Step One: Increase Your Friendliness
That sounds so simple and obvious, but friendliness is something different from simply not being mean, rude, or neutral. Your friendliness is a function of your ability to communicate openness and welcome to other people, and your range of perceived friendliness goes from simply "welcome" to "I like you." You should never allow yourself to communicate unfriendliness as a first step because, as a social reflex, people will generally reciprocate your friendliness (or lack thereof). Here are some quick questions you can ask yourself to help determine your friendliness level:
  • Do I smile often to both strangers and friends?
  • Do I greet people cheerfully with an upbeat tone?
  • Do I set an example of friendliness for others to follow?
  • Do I observe a "no-unfriendliness" rule, intervening with myself when you start to commit unfriendly acts and repairing an unfriendly encounter by apologizing if you blow up?
  • Do I adopt a friendly mindset each day and try to communicate that through positive body language and words?
When you can answer "yes" to all of these, you are on your way to becoming friendlier, and as a result, more likeable.

Step Two: Raise Your Relevance
Your relevance has to do with your connection to others' interests, wants, or needs. The more relevant you are, the more people like you. Generally, relevance has three levels — contact, mutual interests, and value — that each deliver specific psychological benefits that increase likeability. Contact relates to the fact that "functional distance," such as sitting close to someone at a party or living nearby, increases the likelihood that likeability will result. Mutual interests, meanwhile, make people feel validated and generate a sense of community and personal respect. Remember that sometimes relevance is lost because you fail to connect with others in an area about which they are passionate. Note that relevance is strongest when a personal value proposition that you offer is echoed by another person's wants and needs. That value produces positive attitudes in the person's mind and contributes to your L-Factor.

Do you connect with the interests or needs of your family, friends, coworkers, and others? Do you know what they are passionate about outside of work? Are you aware of their emotional needs and willing to respond to them? All of these questions will challenge you to find a deeper connection with people around you. Frankly, you'll be surprised at how quickly you will see the results of any efforts in this area. My seminar attendees have been amazed at how little they connect with their staff, for instance, and how much they can build their likeability factor with just a little initiative.

Step Three: Show Empathy
This element is the toughest of the likeability building blocks to improve. Your empathy reflects your capacity to see things from another person's point of view and, if possible, to experience his or her feelings yourself. When you connect with someone's feelings, and they believe you are "with them," it delivers a psychological hug and dramatically boosts your L-Factor. Ask yourself the following questions about your relationship with someone:
  • Do I know how that person is feeling about his or her life situation these days?
  • Do I know what it must feel like to perform the person's tasks day after day, whether caring for children at home, managing a heavy workload, trying to get through school, or all of the above?
  • Do I share the same emotions about key issues with my friends and/or staff?
It is also important to express your understanding of other people's emotions and experiences. Have you specifically asked for clarification about their feelings, or do you find yourself communicating more facts than feelings? Are you accessible enough to other people, so they can communicate meaningfully to you (e.g., lose the constant e-mail stream and actually sit down and chat over a cup of coffee)? Do you invest enough time with your friends and new acquaintances to see things from their point of view?

If you push yourself to become more emotionally available, your connection with people — and your likeability — will grow. To quote Dr. Stephen Covey in his landmark book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Free Press, 2004): Seek first to understand — then to be understood.

Step Four: Keep It Real
Realness is a function of consistency between your beliefs and your actions. You should be true to yourself, be true to others, and then share that realness. Again, this sounds so simple, but in practice, living by your values can be difficult — and don't think people won't recognize a fake when they see one. Lying and hypocritical actions are just two of the ways to flunk the "be real" test.

First, you need to make sure that you are doing exactly what you want to be doing both in your personal and professional lives. Are you living on purpose? Are you still committed to the principles of your association and your work? Are you the same person on the outside as you are on the inside? Do you find yourself being direct and fully honest with others? The more you can answer yes to these questions, the more your perceived realness will elevate. If people decide you are not real, that you are living a lie, they will discount your friendliness, relevance, and empathy and probably dislike you.

Second, publicize your principles and intentions, so people can clearly identify your key values.

Third, list words that describe the "real you," rank them from positive to negative, and then refer often to the top 10 that you believe best declare who you really are and want to remain. Monitor your behavior consistency with your values and try to see yourself from an outsider's perspective. Invest the energy in developing a level of respect for your authentic self, because it is the firewall that will protect your realness factor when you are challenged or frightened.

Collectively, these four steps will improve your ability to deliver emotional benefits to strangers and loved ones alike. They, in turn, will reward you with a high likeability factor — along with their loyalty and inspiration. Note, too, that your L-Factor goes up and down, so continuing to monitor yourself is important to ensuring that you sustain your relationships over time. Without relationships, you have nothing in life, business, or society.

Much of life often is a popularity contest. Once you understand how to boost your friendliness, relevance, empathy, and authenticity — while simultaneously minimizing your negative "costs" — you will find that likeability can make a powerful difference in creating positive emotional experiences in others and yourself.

Author Link: In addition to giving lectures and seminars worldwide, Tim Sanders is a leadership coach at Yahoo! His books include the international bestseller Love Is the Killer App (Crown Publishers, 2002) and the soon-to-be-released The Likeability Factor: How to Boost Your L-Factor and Achieve Your Life's Dreams (Crown Publishers, April 2005).

Copyright Tim Sanders. All Rights Reserved.

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